Amsterdam ~ Netherlands

It’s so easy to get lazy and put off writing, but what happens later is worse. At night I think about all of the cool things, places and people I saw throughout the day and want to write it down now before I forget it. I keep saying tomorrow and then new exciting things come to light the next day making me forget how exciting the previous day was. I’ve decided to blog for myself this trip. I’m recording the things I noticed and meant something to me rather than boring encyclopedia context.

Side street in Amsterdam
Side street in Amsterdam

We are going to try to stay within a $60.00 meal budget each day. This makes it so fun finding popular cafes, family owned or hidden gems throughout a city that has many amazing high-end restaurants featuring chefs from around the world. Since shows like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman’s, small family run places are more sought after when traveling to other countries. So far, some of my favorite restaurants around the world have been small “no name” places. When I was in my late 20’s early 30’s dining at celebrity chef and upscale restaurants were a big hobby of mine. Trying foods that were innovative, different and upscale were really exciting as a new “foodie” in the making. Just seeing the beauty and detail of these amazing restaurants made it even more exciting to eat in.  Now in my 40’s I am more interested in authenticity and most of all — taste.  I’m looking for the passion in the food rather than who’s name is behind it.  One of the places that really stood out was Moeder’s. Moeder is Dutch for mother. Inside the restaurant are thousands of pictures of mothers from around the world. The food was great and looking at all the mothers on the walls kept us busy while waiting on the food. 

Moeder's restaurant filled with pictures of mothers
Moeder’s restaurant filled with pictures of mothers

Marijuana has been tolerated (although not exactly legal) in Amsterdam for centuries. They’re thinking is if it’s not hidden it won’t become a problem (hence the American alcohol prohibition). Believe it or not, they are right. Only 6% of the Dutch smoke marijuana. Even though you can smell it around every corner, it’s mostly tourist and visitors smoking. Unlike Americans the Dutch roll their joints mixed with tobacco and marijuana. They think its crazy & wasteful smoking 100% reefer in a joint. A coffee shop employee from the Grey Area told me smoking a blunt (marijuana rolled in a cigar paper) is unfathomable to him yet Americans constantly ask for cigar papers. “Americans are always asking for cookies, gummy bears, cigar papers, blah blah blah. We only carry marijuana and hash, this is what we have”, he said.   

Marijuana & Marijuana menu
Marijuana & Marijuana menu

Its kind of strange seeing people openly smoke pot. Especially coming from Southeast Asia where the penalty is death. Some of the coffee shops sell marijuana from the countries that kill people for being in possession of it.  After visiting countries that will literally kill you for using or transporting drugs it was shocking to see marijuana from Thailand and hash from Morocco on the menus being sold legally over the counter in coffee shops everywhere here. The strange thing about it was the Thai weed was grown outside. I mention outside because the marijuana grown outdoors was LESS expensive than the indoor method. That just tells me that someone in Thailand is openly risking their life to sell pot.  It was like looking at the death penalty in lights and the crazy thing is the marijuana from Thailand was less expensive than the marijuana from California.  

As an American it must be a real liberating feeling to walk into a store and buy marijuana without breaking any laws or get arrested leaving. The strange thing is Americans fly  thousands of miles away only to find out most marijuana here is from the United States. Most of the shops pride themselves on the different types of marijuana that they sell.  The one thing they all have in common, is the most of marijuana is from California and most of the hash is from Morocco or Turkey. None of the coffee shops sell alcohol or allow it on the premises.  

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is a must see for anyone visiting. There are a couple of streets dedicated to prostitution. You can always tell because these small alleyways are packed with tourist (and guys looking for sex). The women stand in a window rimmed with a red light advertising their bodies. When the curtain is open and you can visually see the woman, she’s available for hire. If the curtain is closed that means they are busy with a client. I overheard a guy asking the price of one of the working girls – she said $70.00 for oral sex.  The room they are in is the size of a small bathroom. Just enough room for a bed and that’s it. Almost all of them had fake boobs and neon bikinis. Unlike the beautiful Dutch women I’ve seen, these girls looked like worn out hookers of all nationalities. Some were young and some were too old to be doing this in general. But I’m sure they are just as busy or they wouldn’t be there. After walking around staring at hookers, we went to the famous Sex Palace. Sex Palace was PACKED with tourist from organized “sex tours” of the Red Light District. Sex Palace is a peep show with live sex. Remember the carnival ride that spun around and your body stuck to wall as the floor dropped? It’s kind of like that,  a big circular enclosed structure with private doors all around it. You go into the door to a small space with only enough room to stand, put a two euro coin in the slot and a window opens in front of you. Doug and I squeezed into one booth and saw a live sex show for about 3 minutes before the window closes and more money is needed before the window reopens again.  It was the cheaper than buying a pornographic dvd and we got to experience the real grit of the Red Light District. Both women and men of all ages were taking a two euro peek. 

Sex Palace
Sex Palace

The parks here have beautiful trees and scenery. We spent a lot of time riding bikes and chilling out in almost all of them. Each one has a different vibe. All of them are fun.

Feeding animals is part of the fun (for me at least) of being at the park. The ducks are so spoiled that french bread of the highest quality doesn’t even get them to look twice. I bought french bread from a bakery to feed the ducks and the only interested beaks that I could attract where the pigeons. Not to say anything is wrong with pigeons but we have them at home. I was just looking for something a little more exotic.  Once a large egret came by to see what I was passing out but wasn’t interested when he found out it was bread. 

Egret looking to see what snacks I'm giving out
Egret looking to see what snacks I’m giving out

Anne Frank was from Amsterdam. Her house is open daily for tours and if you don’t get tickets in advance the line is long everyday. We happened to be staying very close to her house so we could see the lines daily to get in. It was haunting seeing all these people waiting outside to see her house because of the sad story that followed once they were discovered by the German Nazi army.  I remember seeing the movie when I was young and being so afraid for Anne and her family. I also remember not understanding fully the terror of the story until I was older. Seeing the inside of the actual house and the rooms they hid and lived in for over two years was a feeling I will never forget. The only survivor or the family was her father Otto Frank He lived to be 91 years old. He never read her diary while she was alive and didn’t read it until years after her death. He was astonished at her deep thoughts and didn’t know she had felt or understood as much as she did. His conclusion of her diary is  “most parents don’t really know their children”.  Anne’s diary is on display under a thick glass case and several pages were taken out and framed for all to see. Her room had pictures of movie stars and pretty things on the walls  that are still there exactly as she left them.  I’m happy they have opened the house to the public but it’s a sad place to visit knowing this was the very door the Nazi’s knocked on to capture and kill the entire family and friends hiding there.

Anne Frank's front door
Anne Frank’s front door

One thing I’ve learned since I’ve been in Amsterdam is most people living there (outside of the natives) do not speak Dutch. From an American perspective the language sounds very close to German however from watching a lot of American tv close captions some of the words look familiar.  For instance in English we would say toilet put in Dutch it’s toiletpotten . Street is straat in Dutch. Roast beef is rosbief. Oh, and kippen means chicken. See where I’m going with this? Most of the Dutch people that we encountered in Amsterdam spoke English.  

Taking a day trip to Zaanse Schans was a highlight of the trip. It’s a forty minute trip from Amsterdam to a farming town with historical windmills. The cool thing about the windmills is they are from the late 1500’s and still producing.   Three sawmills, three oil mills, a mustard mill and dye mill are still producing products. For a small fee you can go inside, see the production line and walk to the top. 

Windmills in Zaans Schans
Windmills in Zaans Schans

Clogs originated in the Netherlands. Even though they are sold as souvenirs and key chains, they are still being produced as shoes also. 

Over the years they have come a long way. I even found a pair of Swarovski crystal clogs in a glass case on display.

Instead we rented bikes and road around the farming towns. The houses looked serene on the rolling green farm. Sheep and horses ran free on acres of land. It was beautiful.

Farm in Zaans Schans
Farm in Zaans Schans

We took a day trip to the city of Haarlem about 40 minutes away from Amsterdam. Haarlem made Amsterdam seem like New York City. Haarlem is exactly like Amsterdam aesthetically but without the noise, traffic and mass amounts of people on the streets. I really loved it there and it was nice to get away from the city for a day.  

Haarlem
Haarlem

This is the place where I discovered Paardenworst sausage. It’s banned in the United States and many other countries because it is horse meat. Paardenworst is a sausage sold at markets throughout the Netherlands. There was a plate of free samples at the market. Before we grabbed one thinking it was beef the girl asked us if we were English. When we said yes she warned us that it was horse meat. We tried it anyway. It tasted like a really good kielbasa sausage. Unfortunately after a few seconds of chewing my brain started thinking of what it was and it was hard to swallow.  Either way, you would know right away it wasn’t beef even though it is red meat.

The only problem we encountered in Amsterdam was trying to find a parking spot for our bikes.  Central station was the worst for parking bikes. After climbing to the fourth floor of the bike garage we found two separate spots.

Bike parking in Amsterdam
Bike parking in Amsterdam

One of the weird things about Amsterdam that I don’t remember from my last visit years ago was paying to use a public bathroom. Many public places including a few businesses required you to pay or buy something (the bathroom code was on the receipt). The prices range from $.50 to one euro. I even found a bathroom with a turnstile that excepted credit cards.  And don’t think you can slip into McDonald’s and use their restroom, they had an attendant at the door collecting cash whether you bought something or not.  

Bathroom that accepts credit cards
Bathroom that accepts credit cards

Tulips are the national flower of the Netherlands. There are many fresh flower shops on the corners that sell tulips in bloom and the bulbs to plant.

Tulip bulbs
Tulip bulbs

Sandwiches are popular in many cheese shops, cafes, delis and some restaurants. Sandwiches are called broodjes (pronounced brō-just) in Dutch. One of the popular broodjes is called the American Filet. This didn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in America but it was delicious. The American filet is raw beef mixed with spices and mayo, spread on a fresh baguette with boiled eggs and raw onion. It doesn’t sound as appetizing as it tasted.

American filet
American filet

Salmon sandwiches are popular too. Throughout Amsterdam herring stands selling pickled herring, fried cod bites and smoke salmon sandwiches. It’s a must try when visiting Amsterdam.

Herring stand
Herring stand

I really liked the fried cod bites, the breading is as good as the fish. Doug ate a few salmon sandwiches during the visit, that comes on a bun with a slice of smoked salmon.

Salmon sandwich
Salmon sandwich

French fries are a staple in Amsterdam. There are many places that sell only fries but the internationally known place is called Vleminckx.  This fry stand sells Belgium fries and specializes in 25 types of sauces. mayonnaise is the sauce of choice but they have many ranging from curry to piccalilli sauce.

Fries from Vleminckx
Fries from Vleminckx

One thing the Dutch know how to do right is ribs. Yes ribs. Dutch people aren’t the first ones that come to mind when thinking of spare ribs but they have the recipe down.  Spare ribs were on the menu at all of the Dutch restaurants we ate at. The ribs at each place had one thing in common, they fell off the bone.  The ribs aren’t barbecued but heavily seasoned and then baked until they fall off the bone. It was a pleasant surprise and I ate ribs any chance I could here.

Dutch ribs
Dutch ribs

The national dish of the Netherlands is called stampot. Stampot is a hearty dish of mashed potatoes (either mixed with kale, carrots or sauerkraut), a meatball or sausage over the potatoes topped with gravy. It was rich, heavy and delicious. Something you would crave on a winter’s day or at grandma’s house. Potatoes are grown everywhere in the Netherlands – hence Dutch potatoes. Everyone has their own special way of making stampot but it’s relatively the same ingredients.

Stampot
Stampot

And last but not least is the fast food chain Febo. Febo serves fast food though large vending machines.  You can see the item in the case, put the money in the slot and the little window unlocks to your dish of choice. Febo is everywhere around town. Nothing looks appetizing to me but people were buying it.

A man makes his selection at Febo
A man makes his selection at Febo

Overall, I loved the food here and did I mention cheese? Cheese shops are everywhere and it was a great way to grab a gourmet cheese sandwich on a fresh baguette for less than a pancake. Old Amsterdam cheese is the local cheese. It tasted like a cross between parmesan and cheddar.

Speaking of pancakes, there are many places to eat Dutch pancakes. The pancake is really a crepe but they have “American pancakes” on the menu which are thick. The sad thing about the pancakes are most of the restaurants are geared to tourist and the prices are incredible. We went to Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs (translates to pancake house upstairs), a famous place in Amsterdam since 1962. One pancake (crepe) with strawberries cost $13.00! The night before my rib dinner cost the same. It was a good pancake but the price felt like gauging.

Dutch pancake
Dutch pancake

Stroopwafels were everywhere in Amsterdam. It’s a waffle cookie with caramel smeared between two layers. They are sold from freshly made to bundles at a bakery or market. Packaged small stroopwafels are given with tea, coffee or any hot beverage.  After having them made fresh to order at Original Stroopwafels, I was a fan. 

The local people of Amsterdam rank up as some of the best looking in my travels. No matter what age, they look like they are at their best for that age. Women of all ages were dressed stylishly and physically looking the best they can for the age they are.  Seeing locals dressed up riding bikes and walking on bricked roads made the local men and women look like they were modeling for a Ralph Lauren ad. Even the old ladies were in incredible shape, dressed up and made up. There is a peaceful feeling in the air and things are extremely organized throughout the city. I was so impressed with their culture. 

Which one is a real man?
Which one is a real man?

I knew this was a good place when I woke up on the last day very sad. Last days are always hard at places you really love. That feeling right there is what held me back most of my life until this experience. Loving something so much that I don’t want to anything to ever change. Not giving things a chance to grow and develop into something different. Although there’s no time schedule for this journey I’ve learned through the past year, that change is great and not only is it great there’s usually something even better down the road. The only comparison I ever had to this before, was when I was drinking. Once I decided to stop things got much better and not only did they get much better it was beyond my life’s dreams better.  

Canal in Amsterdam
Canal in Amsterdam

2 responses to Amsterdam ~ Netherlands

  1. nvalano@embarqmail.com says:

    Loved this blog. Your descriptions left me hungry! I always wanted to go to Amsterdam, now I feel I have! Hugs. love Nanette

    Like

  2. Tina says:

    Go, Barbie! Another triumphant travel description! I really would like to sample the foods you mention – especially the cheeses, cod, salmon! I understand that there are multilevel parking garages for bicycles! We in the USA could learn from you; however, our streets and highways are virtual death zones for cyclists. I’ll bet the air is cleaner and that allergies are fewer in Amsterdam. Keep these editorials coming. Oh, in Rome there was always a charge for using the restrooms with a full-time person taking your money and directing you to a vacant stall. I’m not sure, but I think it promotes more sanitary conditions for all because of the close monitoring. Safe travels, my darling! Love you, Mom

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